Feb. 23, 2014
Northwestern gave all it had Saturday night against Indiana, but the Hoosiers prevailed with a 61-56 outcome. Skip Myslenski provides notes and quotes from the affair in his day-after review.
JerShon Cobb, their starting point, watched the game while wearing sweatpants, a tee-shirt and a walking boot on his right foot. It had swelled up on him after the `Cats Wednesday loss at Ohio State and it is uncertain now just how long it will keep him inactive. "We don't know," Chris Collins would say. "He could possibly be back, he could possibly not be back."
The six-foot-one Dave Sobolewski, who replaced him, not only played significant minutes for the first time in six weeks. He also found himself often matched up defensively against Indiana's 6-foot-6 forward Austin Etherington. "I talked to Dave yesterday," said Collins. "I've been empathetic to his situation. It's hard. He goes down (with a concussion in practice), he gets hurt, then we start playing really well. It's hard, when you get a rotation, you get a rhythm, and we had an identity of how we were playing -- and he was great. His attitude was unbelievable. For a kid who's been a starter and played a lot of minutes and been a key guy, it shows what kind of guy he is. I thought he did a good job, especially not having had a lot of minutes the last few weeks."
Alex Olah, their starting center, sprained his right ankle in the `Cats loss to Minnesota last Sunday, sprained his left ankle in their Wednesday loss in Columbus, and spent the days following with a walking boot on the latter and a walking shoe on the former. That left him questionable for their Saturday night meeting with the Hoosiers at Welsh-Ryan, and Collins would not learn that he could go until just an hour before it tipped.
Niko Cerina, their backup center, was suspended for the game after throwing a punch in their loss to the Buckeyes. So Nathan Taphorn
, their 6-foot-7 true freshman forward, made a cameo at that position, spelling Olah for 64 seconds midway through the first half.
Sanjay Lumpkin, their starting forward, struggled offensively and finished with just four points, and this was true too of Drew Crawford, their star, who ended with nine while going 2-of-10 overall and 1-of-5 on his threes.
Still, with just three minutes remaining, the `Cats had the ball down six and were in position to make this a one-possession game. "Then," Collins would say, "you never know what might happen."
That was not a basketball game the `Cats played on Saturday night. That was a stare down with adversity. That is what should be understood most of all, and this as well. They never blinked, not once, instead spending the entire evening spitting in the face of odds as long as the tallest tale ever told. They rolled out a starting lineup of Crawford, Lumpkin, Olah, Sobolewski and Tre Demps, and led through portions of the first half before exiting it down two.
They staggered early in the second half, picking up just two points in its first seven-and-a-half minutes, and now they were down a dozen and wobbling like some boxer who'd just caught a haymaker to the head. Crawford, on his way to playing the full 40 minutes, was again the object of his opponent's most-ardent attention. "He is not easy to guard, at all," Hoosier coach Tom Crean would later say. "It's nice to think you're going to guard him with one person. But you've really got to guard him with your team because he's so capable. We built our game plan tonight around him and Demps."
Demps, even while handling the point some and often guarding Hoosier star Yogi Ferrell, would score a game-high 19 while himself playing the full 40. But the more fitting symbol for the `Cats this night was the injured Olah, who got that 64 second blow in the first half and then did not rest again until this game was in its last minute.
Last summer and fall, during his team's pickup games, he had manifested flashes of his possibilities. ("He was dominant. He was our leading scorer by far," Demps would say, thinking back to those games.) Now, on this Saturday night against the Hoosiers, he revealed them, finishing with 17 points and 11 rebounds and two blocks while also controlling the Hoosiers' heralded 6-foot-10 Noah Vonleh. "He's a fantastic player," Crean would say of him.
Still, now down that dozen, the `Cats appeared on their way to an early knockdown, but right here is where they showed their collective resolve, right here is where they revealed a character to be much admired. "They had us on the ropes and a lot of teams would have laid down at that point," Collins would later say with great accuracy. "It wasn't going well, they were starting to get momentum, we were getting tired. But we battled. We battled."
They battled back together, Demps chipping in a jumper and a free throw, Lumpkin and Crawford chipping in a pair of free throws each, Kale Abrahamson chipping in a three from the right corner that left the `Cats down six at 8:17. Their deficit was again six when Abrahamson hit a 15-footer in the middle of the Hoosiers' zone at 4:22 and now, after an Indiana turnover, they once more had the ball and the chance to make this a one-possession game.
They would never do that, Abrahamson soon missing a pair of threes. They would later get it to four after a Demps' layup at 2:21. But now the Hoosiers responded with a layup of their own and then--after a Demps' free throw--their senior forward Will Sheehey would drop a dagger of a three from the left wing at 51.8 to put the `Cats down nine. "He did what a senior does," Collins would later say, thinking back to that shot. "He made a big play down the stretch."
Later, after his team fell by five, an emotional Chris Collins opened his post-game press conference by saying, "Obviously, no one wants to win more than me. But I'm so proud of my team. So proud of my team. I'm looking out on the floor and they've got a guy (Vonleh) who's going to be a top ten pick in this year's draft who's a monster. They've got Yogi Ferrell (the leading scorer in the Big Ten). Will Sheehey's a senior. They've got athlete after athlete after athlete, and we've got about six guys playing, and we just battled. We just battled. We fought the whole game. Super proud of the guys. I'll live with whatever result if we play that hard."
Now it was some minutes later and time for Crean, who had bumped into and complimented Olah on his way to the podium. "Northwestern," he immediately said. "I'll talk about us in a minute. But Northwestern, Chris, (assistant coach) Brian James, that entire staff-- they're doing such a great job of making their team better, making them believe. Looking at where Alex Olah is now as a player is really something to see. Knowing that he's been hurt, to battle like that. . .
"We knew we were playing against a very good team, we knew we were playing against a wounded team, and they put everything into it."
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